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Allow me, if you will, to begin this review in the lamest way possible; with a disclaimer. I enjoy Aaron Sorkin’s work. I think that A Few Good Men is one of the 15 best movies of all time, I loooooved Sports Night, and I’m one of those rare people who’ll defend Studio 60. That said, it’s clear from watching Sorkin’s latest creation, The Newsroom, that he has been sniffing his own farts for way too long.
I first noted The Newsroom back in April when the first promo appeared, and to be honest the show didn’t look very promising from the beginning. Then the negative reviews started trickling in from various publications that I respect. Still, I though to myself, it couldn’t be that bad. After all, The Newsroom looked awful Sports Night-ish and had Jeff Daniels (who is awesome) and Sam Waterson’s crazy eyebrows, not to mention that guy from Slumdog Millionaire. Unfortunately, The Newsroom, is just indefensibly bad. From what I can tell from the first episode, it’s less a show than an amalgam of all the stupid cliches that have ever been uttered about politics run through the filter of Aaron Sorkin fast-talk to create a product that is simultaneously grating and frustrating, because there’s a great show lying underneath.
The Newsroom opens with our protagonist Will McAvoy (Daniels) sitting on a panel of journalists in a college auditorium right in between two screeching partisans. You see, these people with their unreasonable arguments are petty little creatures, unlike “the great man” McAvoy, who is eminently reasonable. Of course, no one sees what a genius McAvoy is because he’s carefully packaged himself to be the bland “Jay Leno” of news anchors (in the show’s own words). That is, until one silly blond little college student asks the dumbest question of all time, “Why is America the greatest country on Earth?” The other panelists come up with super lame reasons why they believe that America is great, but McAvoy is better than that and it’s time for him to drop some knowledge on these suckers. Deep within his genius brain, he has stored up a vast pool of knowledge about where America ranks in a ton of different categories, he’s like an America ranking Eric Karabell or Matthew Barry. Turns out, America by Mr. McAvoy’s formulation, is not so great. But, we can be numb one, according to him. Also, he’s hallucinating that his ex/ new producer is in the crowd or something.
Of course, this is all a load of BS. The America (and the American press corps) that McAvoy (and by extension the show) envisions, where everyone was totally manly and awesome never actually existed. Anyways, McAvoy’s truth bomb totally shakes things up because everyone thought he was totally lame and Leno-ish, but really he’s this awesome GENIUS and no one is ready for his truth missiles. Did we mention that he’s really smart, but also has real people problems because he is a real person. Fast talk, fast walk, joke about blogs, joke about twitter, fart, fart, wank motion.
Then McAvoy gets a new staff and they set out to change the face of cable news. If all of this sounds boring that’s because it is. In fact it’s a bunch of yelling and office politics mostly, which most people get enough of Monday – Friday. Add to thins the fact that the show is set in the near past and The Newsroom offers a strange, revisionist history of American media, re-framing the coverage of BP oil spill inaccurately.
There are of course bright moments to the show. The acting is excellent and there is a compelling human story at the heart of the shows plot. Unfortunately, it’s all so deeply buried in a layer of Aaron Sorkin’s farts that it’s hard to see. I guess what I’m trying to say is instead of watching The Newsroom I’ll stick to watching Sports Night on Netflix for the eighth time.
I love boxing, L-O-V-E it. At it’s best, there simply isn’t a sport that compares to the violent beauty of the sweet science. Don’t believe me? Watch this:
That said, after this weekend’s egregious (rigged?) split decision in Pacquiao vs. Bradley, I think it’s time to declare boxing dead. It’s simply not that compelling anymore. There are really only two “must-see” fighters in the sport: Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr — if you’re really stretching things I guess you could add Miguel Cotto and maybe Amir Khan to the list, but have you ever heard anyone say, “Can’t go out tonight, Miguel Cotto is fighting…” ? A fight between the two may be able to revive the sport, but don’t hold your breath for that to happen. Even if the two fighters’ promoters (Top Rank for Pac-Man, Golden Boy for Money) could come to an understanding (unlikely), Pacquiao still has to have a rematch with Bradley before any fight with Mayweather. Furthermore, since Bradley did “officially” beat Pacquiao, Mayweather has a convenient excuse to continue dodging the one man on earth who has a shot at blemishing his record.
Still, if you enjoy a little sanctioned violence (you know you do) there’s no need to despair, there’s another combat sport out there which actually well-run and features compelling cards on a regular basis. Here’s a few reasons that you might want to consider just ditching boxing for mixed martial arts:
1. A wealth of compelling fighters
Unlike boxing, MMA is stocked with compelling and dominating fighters in nearly every weight class. Middleweight Anderson Silva is the current pound for pound king and the Bantamweight, Featherweight, Welterweight, and Light Heavyweight weight classes have their own dominant champs in Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Georges St. Pierre, and Jon Jones, respectively. Also unlike boxing, which has had its Heavyweight division dominated for the past half-decade by the thoroughly uncompelling (if underrated) Wladimir Klitschko, UFC’s heavyweight division is very much up for grabs with the likes of Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem looking to challenge current champ Junior Dos Santos, not to mention the possibility of a healthy Shane Carwin creating an extra bit of havoc. Boxing simply can’t compete.
2. A better promotion system
The fact that we haven’t seen a Pacquiao – Mayweather matchup is a real indictment of boxing’s promotion system.No such problems exist in MMA, where the vast majority of the best fighters are under the UFC promotion. I’m far from Dana White’s biggest fan — his personal feud with Fedor Emilianenko denied us the chance to see perhaps the greatest martial artist ever take on the best available competition — but there’s no denying that he’s done an excellent job turning UFC from a sideshow curiosity into a legitimate major sport. Consider this example of how much more efficient UFC’s structure is: when Bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz tore his ACL in training for his UFC 149 title defense against top contender Urijah Faber the promotion responded quickly by setting an interim title fight between Faber and the weight class’ next best fighter: 28-1 Renan Barao. In boxing, when we don’t get Mayweather v Pacquiao we get stuck with Pacquiao v Bradley and disappointment all around.
3. A simplified weight class structure
An underrated aspect of boxing’s decline has been the addition of the incremental Super- and Junior- weight class designations. While it’s cool to see a guy like Manny Pacquiao constantly change his weight to pick up titles in a host of classes, it would be nice to see him him defend those titles more often. MMA’s simpler weight classes creates more intrigue within the divisions. Familiarity breeds contempt among fighters and MMA has more legitimate rivalries — like Faber and Cruz in the Bantamweight division and Jon Jones and everyone else at 205 lbs — than boxing, where the two biggest “rivals” have never actually fought each other. Furthermore, not having the incremental weight classes creates more intrigue when fighters jump up a class. If and when Jones makes his much-anticipated jump to heavyweight, he’ll be going from 205 lbs to 265 lbs, kind of a big deal.
4. More exciting fights
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. The grappling aspect of MMA can sometimes turn fights into a soul sucking grind of two sweaty dudes rolling around on the ground. Still, there’s a nuance to wrestling, take-down defense, submissions, and jiu-jitsu that fight fans can grow to appreciate.
Mixed Martial Arts’ lighter gloves and more varied strikes lead to more knockouts, both often and early. While this makes the classic boxing wars of days past (Ward v Gatti, Ali v Frasier) nigh impossible, it does add more unpredictability to the sport. Stuff like this is pretty damn cool (I apologize for the poor video quality):
Additionally, the increased frequency of knockouts (I’ll include submissions here) takes power out of the hands of the scorekeepers which, as we learned from Pacquiao-Bradley, is a good thing.
5. Better fight cards
This might be UFC’s single greatest advantage over boxing. Consider the upcoming UFC 149 which was originally set to feature title defenses from both Cruz and Aldo. Unfortunately, both fighters were injured in training, making the card less compelling, bu the point stands. When was the last time a boxing card featured two of the sport”s five best pound for pound fighters in two separate fights?
For my money there’s still nothing that compares to a great boxing match. For all it’s excitement, MMA can’t match the awesomeness of an all out boxing war. Still, if I’m getting pay-per-view, I’d much rather shell out for a UFC card. That way, I know that I’ll see some intriguing fighters and see some good fights with outcomes that make sense. I wish I could say the same for boxing.
Everyone deserves a second chance right? At least that’s the assumption I was operating under when I gave HBO’s Girls another shot this Sunday night. In the time since I wrote my original post on the show, people have really piled on the series. Some of this was to be expected, after all, critics talked about Girls as if it were the best thing to happen to TV since Seinfeld, and then it wasn’t. Some of the criticisms (especially mine) are valid. Girls has a real nepotism problem, and is way too white for a show set in Brooklyn. Some of the criticisms are invalid. Lena Dunham being a bit chubby does not a bad show make. So keeping all this in mind, I approached the second episode of the series with a fresh set of eyes, and found myself pleasantly surprised.
Girls still isn’t a laugh riot, but it’s easier to relate to the characters when they’re not begging their parents for money or stealing tips from hotel maids. And there were some genuine moments of comedy in the episode, most notably the scene where Dunham’s character googles “stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms.” I would venture that many people have had similar experiences of neurosis when it comes to the risks associated with STDs, such is America in the age of politically correct sex education. It was also pleasant to see the excellent Mike Birbiglia making a cameo. Finally, Ashley Williams is really pretty.
On the other hand, some of the problems with the show persist. The characters still aren’t likable, although I guess this could be partly excused since some of them are dealing with real problems (some aren’t). I get that the show is trying to capture the hipster aesthetic, I just don’t know that hipsters are really a good source of comedy, or even a group to look to for a social message. For example, who the f*ck goes to a bar and orders a white russian? Ironic drink orders, not funny. And of course, it doesn’t help that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ new comedy Veep proved to be extremely funny in its first episode.
All in all, I’ve softened my take on the show a bit. I can definitely see what some of the glowing pre-premiere reviews were based on. I’m willing to give episode three a shot. Also, more Ashley Williams please.
All right, critics, here’s the deal. If you’re going to expend months and countless thousands of words talking about how good, smart, and important a show is; it actually has to be good. As a corollary to that rule I’ll add this: if you’re going to call something a comedy it actually has to be funny, and you don’t get off that hook by calling it a dark comedy. Let’s start with the second point. There’s been a rash of pay cable channels creating relatively undramatic dramas and then calling them comedies despite the fact that they contain no jokes. Perhaps the best example of this is Showtime’s Nurse Jackie which is somehow still running despite having no obvious appeal. In this vein, HBO’s new “comedy” Girls is not funny. I watched the premiere, twice, just to make sure, and I didn’t laugh once. As for how this ties into the first point, Girls is also not a good show.
How bad is it? It made me want to vote for Mitt Romney, because if this is the way my generation actually thinks then we might as well let our parents just burn this entire fucker down before we finally grow up. Of course, the characters (and even the cast) of Girls are hardly representative of everyone in their 20s. In fact, based on my own experience with being 24 years old, I have no idea where these people exist. As a point of reference, of my friends, the people I grew up with, met in college, and in the ensuing years, I’m probably one of the more shiftless individuals. In fact, I can find more than a few parallels between myself and Lena Dunham’s character on the show (I’m not making the effort to imdb this one so deal). I, like Dunham’s character, happen to be 24, with a very limited income. I’ve spent the last six months working on a novel, that objectively, kinda sucks. Unlike Dunham’s character, I wouldn’t be so pretentious as to attempt a memoir at 24, but potato, potahto amirite? Also, like Dunham’s character, I rely on my parents for financial assistance (though not to the same degree) and I have quite a few friends who do the same. The real difference between people like me, however, and people like the characters in Girls is that we don’t like the fact that we have to ask our parents for the occasional buck. In fact, it’s kind of a constant point of shame. I don’t think that I know anyone who’s quite as sociopathic as Dunham’s twat of an actor/woodworker (*double wanking motion*) boyfriend, who actually hits up his grandmother for money.
There would be nothing wrong if those two were the only characters on the show to hate. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single likable character in the entire cast. Not even Dunham’s parents, who are apparently smart enough to be professors, but not smart enough to realize that starting a blog is not the route to riches (trust me). I won’t go into the details of each character, because I’m lazy, but I will point you to this recap from Gawker, which sums things up pretty nicely. These people aren’t broad, idiotic stereotypes like the ones on 2 Broke Girls, but their navel-gazing angst, ennui, and senses of entitlement make them just as offensive.
Of course, a show can still be good if the characters are loathsome individuals. In fact, there’s a show that ran right before Girls which makes that fact abundantly clear. Eastbound and Down‘s Kenny Powers is probably a worse person than Lena Dunham’s character on Girls. He’s an unrepentantly racist, drug addled, man child wholly unconcerned with anyone but himself. Here’s the thing, you can make light of Kenny, or even root for him to pull his shit together because the show is funny, like a comedy should be. The only thing I’m rooting for Lena Dunham’s character to do at this point is get a job at McDonalds or something, I don’t care, writing is hard, I’ve gotta go call my mom and get some money. I think she has some left in her IRA.
I’m on the West Coast this week, so that means infrequent (more so than usual) posting. I’ll try to hammer out a couple, but I’m not making any promises. You may now return to searching youtube for videos of cats.
The 2012 Major League Regular Season begins tomorrow at 1:00 pm EST when the Red Sox face the Tigers. Alright, so it really began last Wednesday, but who here actually paid attention to the As and Mariners in Japan? Didn’t think so. Anyways, with the season all set to kick off, let’s hand out some awards and make some predictions, all of which will undoubtedly be wrong.
1. AL MVP: Evan Longoria, 3B, TAM (ZiPS projection (AVG/OBP/OPS) .274/.367/.881, 31 HRS)
I’ve said before that I believe that Tampa Bay is the best team in baseball and Longoria is the Rays’ best player. He’s had four good to great seasons in the league already, establishing himself as one of the two best third basemen in the game along with Adrian Beltre. Now it’s time to take the next step and collect some hardware for it. I think Longoria’s OPS will be above .900 with 35+ homers to go with his customary stellar defense.
2. NL MVP: Justin Upton RF, AZ ( ZiPS (AVG/OBP/OPS) .283/.366/.871, 28 HR, 22 SB)
There are safer picks, like Matt Kemp and Joey Votto, but Upton is already so good at 24 years of age that it’s impossible to ignore. I could see the stolen bases dropping a little while the power jumps. Whatever the case, Upton has been historically good at a very young age and players who play as well as he has this early almost always improve as they age.
3. AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, RHP, SEA (ZiPS (ERA, K/9, BB/9, FIP) 3.00, 8.57, 2.54, 2.96)
Why not? The Mariners figure to be pretty bad this season, but Hernandez already won a Cy Young in 2010, when Seattle lost 101 games — perhaps the long awaited final nail in the coffin for pitcher wins as a relevant statistic. In any case, Hernandez, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander are the three best pitchers in the AL by a decent margin. Hernandez is the youngest of the three, Verlanders is due for a decent sized statistical regression, and Sabathia’s strikeout rate has been slowly declining in recent seasons.
4. NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, SF (ZiPS (ERA, K/9, BB/9, FIP) 2.92, 9.52, 3.17, 2.89)
Teammate Matt Cain just got the richest contract ever for a right handed pitcher — an overpay, but that’s another conversation for another day — and Lincecum should see his own big payday soon enough. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw seems to have grabbed the mantle of NL’s best pitcher from Lincecum and Roy Halladay and there’s been some hand wringing in San Francisco about “The Freak’s” diminished velocity this spring as well as his decision to junk his slider to preserve his arm. I’m not buying the anti -Lincecum hype. The velo drop could be a concern, but I’m not convinced that it’s not just a case of a veteran pitcher saving some bullets for the regular season. As for the no slider policy, it was Lincecum’s fourth best pitch anyways, and his fastball and changeup are so good that he could probably junk his curve as well and still be above average. Lincecum is perhaps the most successful slight-statured pitcher since Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax and while both of those guys had injury problems later in their careers I’m not going to worry about Lincecum until someone reports he’s having a MRI on his rotator cuff.
5. AL ROY: Matt Moore, SP, TAM
With Mike Trout getting sent to the minors for the start of the season (more on that later) there are really only two choices for the award: Moore and Darvish. Given their relative age and experience differences, I could see Darvish being the more effective pitcher in 2012 — that’s not to say I don’t like Moore, I love Moore. This pick is based more on my belief that some voters simply won’t vote for Darvish given his experience in NPB (the Japanese League). I personally don’t think that professional experience overseas should put a player out of the running for Rookie of the Year honors — after all Darvish is a Major League Rookie — but no one ever won any bets by underestimating baseball writers’ capacity for ignorance or logical fallacy.
6. NL ROY: Zach Cozart, SS, CIN
In my NL Central Preview, I highlighted another Red, catcher Devin Mesoraco, who looks to be a more valuable player than Cozart in the long run. Unfortunately, Mesoraco will begin the season backing up Ryan Hanigan. The other smart-money picks for NL ROY honors: Bryce Harper and Trevor Bauer, will begin the season in the minors and when Bauer finally gets the call it might be as a reliever. So, as Rob Neyer points out, Cozart kind of wins this by default of being the guy with the most at bats. He’s got a very good defensive reputation and the offensive bar for shortstops is set so low that he should be serviceable. He’s probably not an All-Star level player, but he might be the highest probability choice at this point.
6. The Nationals will regret sending Bryce Harper to the minors, as will the Angels with Mike Trout
Harper is 19, and he clearly has some work to do in the minors, but he has to be better than current center fielder Roger Bernadina, a replacement level player. The Nationals clearly consider themselves contenders, otherwise they wouldn’t have raided the farm system for a pitcher as flawed as Gio Gonzalez, or given a one year deal to Edwin Jackson, who is apparently on a mission to play for all 30 teams. The problem is that Washington plays in a division with three other playoff contenders — Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami — and even if Harper comes up in June they’ll have spent two months getting nothing from center field, which is something that they’ll have to live with if they miss the playoffs by a game or two. Harper is far from a sure bet to be two wins better than Bernadina over two months of the season, but there’s a possibility that he is, whereas everyone knows Bernadina has no upside.
The same thing goes for the Angels and their decision to send Mike Trout to AAA. Anaheim has a great rotation, but after Albert Pujols their lineup looks awful anemic. No one knows what to expect from Kendrys Morales after two lost seasons, Mark Trumbo puts up sub .300 on base percentages, Torii Hunter is clearly on the downside of his career, and Vernon Wells remains the poster child for bad contract decisions. Trout was pretty bad in his major league debut last season, but he’s been one of the three best prospects in baseball for three years now and it’s not like the Angels have a lot to lose by playing him now. Like the Nationals, they’re going to regret the decision to not start Trout from day one if they miss the playoffs by a game or two.
7. Jason Heyward will hit more than 30 homers
Perhaps not a huge stretch given the power that Heyward showed in the minors, but his high for a season in the majors was 18 in 2010. Of course Heyward is just 22, with only two years of major league experience, which makes the rumors of his demise laughable. After a 2011 season marred by injuries and mismanagement by Fredi Gonzalez, who benched Heyward for an extended stretch, the Braves right fielder looks like a good bet for a breakout season. Remember that it was just two years ago when Heyward was drawing Griffey comparisons — the good kind. Turner Field suppresses home runs, but Heyward has special power, the ball jumps off his bat to all fields. He’s a big reason why I believe the Braves are primed to pick up one of the NL Wild Card spots.
8. Three AL East teams will make the playoffs
You may have caught this if you paid attention to the win projections in my preview columns (it’s okay, I know you didn’t). For the record, I’m not a huge fan of the new playoff structure, which places additional emphasis on the divisions. I personally feel baseball should be de-emphasizing the divisions and moving towards a more balanced schedule so the best teams in each league are in the playoffs every year rather than those who have the privilege of playing in the AL Central (revolutionary I know) — but I digress.
In any case, the AL East is stacked, as usual. I’ve already made my feelings about Tampa clear. The Yankees may have been quiet in free agency, but they made some smart moves to shore up their pitching in the offseason. I think Hiroki Kuroda was a really smart signing even if his performance drops a little as he moves to a tougher league/park. As for the Red Sox, no one should be writing them off, even if Andrew Bailey is out until July. If not for a terrible April and September, they would have had the best record in baseball. I know, I know, hypotheticals are pretty worthless in hindsight, but its hard to imagine the Sox having two historically bad months again, right? Irregardless, I don’t see how this year’s team is worse than last year’s model, and I see plenty of reasons to believe that they could be better.
As for the non- AL East wild card contenders, there aren’t any in the AL Central, unless you really want to dream on Cleveland (you don’t), and you already have my thoughts on the Angels.
9. Will Middlebrooks will be the Red Sox starting third baseman by the end of the season
Bonus Red Sox prediction, because I like to stick to what I (pretend to) know. I’m not sold on Kevin Youkilis’ ability to stand up to the rigors of a full season at third base. Youkilis is a phenomenal hitter, but he’s always had a bad body for a third baseman. My guess is that he hits the DL at some point in June and that when he comes back he splits time between third and DH. That opens the door for Middlebrooks, a guy who Red Sox fans can dream on a bit. He’s improved every year he’s been in the minors and he’s an immediate upgrade defensively over Youk. Middlebrooks’ approach needs refinement, but he’s demonstrated some pop thus far in the minors. A more likely scenario for a Youkilis injury is Mike Aviles shifting to third and Jose Iglesias getting called up to play short, but I’m not convinced that’s actually an appreciable upgrade over simply calling up Middlebrooks.
10. The Texas Ranger will lose in the World Series for the third straight year
I know I just spent a good chunk of this column talking up Tampa as the best team in baseball, and that this prediction seems a bit cruel, but deal with it okay? I just have a feeling that Texas is heading down the path to becoming the baseball version of the late 80s /early 90s Buffalo Bills, an immensely talented team whose flaws reared their head at the worst possible moments. In Texas’ case, those flaws are manager Ron Washington, and a questionable starting rotation which lacks upside outside of Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz. Colby Lewis is the Rangers’ opening day starter. His 2011 FIP? 4.54. That’s a problem.
So who’s my World Series pick? The Arizona Diamondbacks. How’s that for bold?
If you — like me — are one of the millions of NERDS who tuned in to last nights Game of Thrones premiere then perhaps you caught the promo for Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO program Newsroom — AKA Sportsnight II: This Time Without Sports. If you didn’t then here it is for your viewing pleasure:
All I can say is AARON SORKIN AARON SORKIN AARON SORKIN. Does this guy have any range at all? All he ever does is ‘behind the scenes everyone is complicated, but not really because all their problems are pretty trite.’ For the record, I actually like Sorkin, I love Sportsnight and The West Wing, hell I’ll even defend Studio 60, although The Social Network and Moneyball were kinda weak sauce . That said, this whole act is getting a bit old, no? Did this show really need to be made? I’ll probably still watch, but I guess what I’m trying to say is bring back Sportsnight.
This is the sixth in a series of posts previewing the upcoming baseball season.
This will likely come as no surprise, but the AL East is stacked. Three of the four best teams in the AL, if not the entire sport, reside in the division, and the Toronto isn’t far behind the top three. There’s also Baltimore, but we won’t worry too much about them. Here’s how I see things shaking out:
1. Tampa Bay Rays (Projected 2012 Record: 96-66)
There isn’t another team in baseball that looks as good and as balanced as Tampa. The only real complaints that can be made about this roster is that they won’t get much offense at shortstop or catcher, but very few teams do. There are some other question marks, but they’re heavily outweighed by the positives.
To start, Tampa goes six deep in the rotation, with phenom Matt Moore taking over as the number five starter and Jeff Niemann — who’s been a pretty effective pitcher the last couple years — moving to the bullpen. Veterans David Price and James Shields anchor the top of the rotation. Price, a former number one overall pick, has settled in nicely as one of the best lefties in the game and could be making a Cy Young run this season. Shields may regress a bit from next year — he had a .258 BABIP against in 2011, and it’s hard to imagine him pitching 11 complete games for a second year in a row — but he’s got a long enough track record as an effective starter (he’s been worth at least 2 WAR every year since 2007) that both Rays fans shouldn’t be too worried about him. Third starter Jeremy Hellickson is coming off of a season in which he posted a 2.95 ERA. Unfortunately, his performance was greatly aided by a .223 BABIP, so some regression should be expected. Still, Tampa is a spectacular defensive team, which leads to generally lower BABIPs for their pitchers, and Hellickson’s minor league track record suggests that he should be a very good third option. Fourth starter Wade Davis has never quite lived up to the hype that he generated in the minors, but he was much more effective after he started throwing a cutter last September and he should eat enough innings to be valuable at the back of the rotation even if he posts an ERA around 4.4. The real prize here could be fifth starter Moore, a lefthander who in a cup of coffee last season showed easy velocity and quality secondary pitches. In a year, he could be the undisputed ace of this group. Niemann will likely swing back to the rotation if anyone gets hurt. The Rays don’t like to rush their prospects so it would be surprising to see another of their high-ceiling arms like Chris Archer in the majors before September.
The bullpen could be the one thing that keeps this team from reaching its full potential. Kyle Farnsworth returns as the closer, and there are some familiar, if largely unproven, names. That said, Tampa understands reliever volatility better than any other team in baseball and has built some very effective relief corps in the past, largely out of spare parts.
The Rays’ pitching strength is bolstered by their outstanding defense. Tampa is above average defensively at every position in the field, and third baseman Evan Longoria and center fielder BJ Upton are arguably the best at their respective positions with the glove. Where things are less sure for the Rays are in the offensive department. Longoria is a star, as is second baseman Ben Zobrist, but shortstop Reid Brignac was actually below replacement level last year and should probably lose his starting job to Sean Rodriguez. Left fielder Desmond Jennings earns natural comparisons to Carl Crawford, but he looks like a different type of player after hitting 10 home runs in 63 games last season. Jennings’ true power level is probably less than that, but he should be a very effective player for years to come. Upton is another question mark with the bat as while he has shown some propensity for making big plays, he also seems to lose focus in key moments. Right fielder Matt Joyce crushes left handed pitching. First baseman Carlos Pena is another question mark, he won’t hit for much average, but he still draws enough walks to get on base at an acceptable rate. If Pena can hit at least 25 homers he should be an upgrade over Casey Kotchman. With Jose Molina behind the plate, the Rays are basically punting offense at catcher.
The Rays look like the best team in baseball, not because there aren’t any question marks surrounding them, but because the questions seem less critical than those of their competitors. It may be cliched to say that teams that do the little things well win, but the Rays understand their own players better than any other team and manager Joe Maddon consistently gets as much value as possible out of his roster.
Hey, there movie fan who grew up in the 90s, want to see something that will make you really mad? Turns out Michael Bay is making a Ninja Turtles movie and well, I’ll let him explain:
“When you see this movie, kids are going to believe, one day, that these turtles actually do exist when we are done with this movie. These turtles are from an alien race and they are going to be tough, edgy, funny and completely lovable.”
GUH. Michael Bay is the worst. I generally don’t wish bodily harm on people, but I hope Michael Bay gets hit by a truck, preferably one painted with flames. Lord knows he’d deserve it for the way he’s planning to rape my childhood. All I know is that when, 2 years from now, my 7-year old nephew tries to explain the origins of the Ninja Turtles to me, a little part of my soul will die.
This is the third in a series of posts previewing the upcoming baseball season. I’ll be posting twice a week over the next three weeks going West to East across the divisions.
There are a lot of teams in the NL Central. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad. This is the type of analysis that allows me to earn the big bucks blogging. In all seriousness, the NL Central may have more parity than any division in baseball with the possible exception of the AL East (yes the AL East). In the past three years the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers have all won division titles, and coincidentally (or perhaps not) those three teams are the favorites in 2012. Here’s how I see things shaking out:
1. Cincinnati Reds (Projected 2012 record: 93-69)
This is a pretty bold prediction given that the Reds finished with 79 wins last season. Call me crazy, but I think that the 2012 Reds are more like the 2010 team that finished with 91 wins. On paper the Reds look like a very balanced team. Scott Rolen is entering his age 37 season and the twilight of his career, but he’s still a plus defender at third — 14.9 career UZR/150 (career fielding scaled to 150 games), 7.4 UZR in 2011 — and can provide some value with the bat provided that he’s given regular rest to stay healthy. Shortstop Zach Cozart won’t bring much hitting to the table, but he should be adequate given his defensive reputation and the low offensive bar for his position. Second baseman Brandon Phillips remains one of the best offense-defense combinations at the keystone and first baseman Joey Votto is a perennial MVP candidate. New catcher Devin Mesoraco has been near the top of prospect lists for the last two years and should be an improvement over the departed Ramon Hernandez.
The Reds outfield could be a strength, but right now it’s a question mark. Right fielder Jay Bruce had a slow start to his major league career, but he’s quietly developed into one of the best players in the game. Bruce will turn 25 this April and is coming off a season in which he hit 32 home runs. On a normal development curve it’s not crazy to imagine Bruce joining Votto in the MVP club. Center fielder Drew Stubbs is coming off a disappointing season in which he struck out 205 times and had a paltry .686 OPS, low even for a CF. Still, Stubbs is 27 and presents an intriguing power-speed combination (45 homers and 80 SB in 2.5 seasons) so long as he can cut down a little on the strikeouts. Left fielder Chris Heisey is another solid young player, but whether he’ll get to play is another question. Heisey is ostensibly the Reds’ starting left fielder right now, but manager Dusty Baker could be quick to go to Ryan Ludwick — an inferior player, but one that managers seem to love — if Heisey struggles early.
The Reds made some smart moves to improve their pitching in the offseason. New ace Mat Latos should team with Johnny Cueto to form a good, young 1-2 punch in the rotation. That said, there are some things to watch with Latos. Most notably, he’s moving from an offensive dead zone in San Diego to a bandbox in Cincinnati. Latos gets plenty of strikeouts, is not a flyball pitcher, and will be in front of a great defense so some of these concerns may be overblown. So long as Dusty Baker can resist the temptation to grind his shoulder into dust, Latos should be an anchor in Cincy for years to come. The two wild cards here are Homer Bailey and Aroldis Chapman. Bailey has always had tremendous stuff, but he’s also always had injury issues. Last year he seemed to finally put things together before getting hurt and sliding back a little. If Bailey can stay healthy and pitch like a 3/4 starter the Reds will probably take it. Chapman, a Cuban defector, has undeniable talent as a hard throwing lefty, but he also lacks command and the good changeup necessary to start. After a tough season out of the bullpen in 2011 it looks the Reds are willing to give Chapman some time in AAA to stretch out and work on his changeup and mechanics in hopes he can take a rotation spot and that’s probably a smart move. With Ryan Madson and Sean Marshall joining the team in the offseason Cincy has plenty of help at the back end of games and if Chapman can figure it out his value as a starter would be tremendous.
A lot has to go right for the Reds to meet this prediction, but after a season in which nearly everything went wrong for them, I expect Cincinnati to bounce back strong.